“Food is Life; Food is Personal” – Masterchef Ireland Winner Diana Dodog on Her First Cookbook

Nearly four years after being crowned Masterchef Ireland champion and a successful food truck business under her belt, Diana Dodog has released her first book “Favourite Recipes from the Food Truck.” Kate Ryan of Flavour.ie caught up with Diana to talk food, family and the joy of feeding!

“It’s designed so you can dribble over it, or spill some food on it and just wipe it off. It should be able to take a battering in the kitchen!” So is Diana Dodog’s opening comment about her book, not the gambit about the achievement of creating her first cookbook that I had expected. No, Diana’s first thought is that this book is used, loved and consumed in the same way her customers come to dine at her food truck week in, week out.

The opening pages of the book are a homage to Diana’s past, present and future which is nothing short of a love letter to family and friends.

To her past, Diana speaks of sitting at her Grandmother’s apron strings watching her cook up dishes that wouldn’t be amiss in fashionable restaurants of Paris. “She was a cook not a chef, although we never found out where she herself learned to cook like that!”
To the love of her family, still in the homestead outside of the Hungarian capital Budapest where she grew up and continues to cultivate happy memories, and finally to her business partner, husband and soul mate Mike O’Donovan.

“I recognise that I am married to a creative genius and I just have to let her loose and do what she instinctively knows is the right thing to do”, says Mike without a hint of irony. He has Diana’s back, front and sides; inseparable, sharing a mutual respect and understanding that is nothing short of total support to achieve success.

“I began thinking about putting together the book about a year into opening Food Depot – Gourmet Street Kitchen,” Diana and Mike’s joint venture post Masterchef, the food truck positioned overlooking Courtmacherry Harbour in West Cork. “I noticed that customers would come back to the truck week after week asking me when I would put a certain dish back on the menu again.”

Like her Grandmother before her, Diana has always kept a recipe journal – a place to collect ideas about recipes, note adjustments and tweaks, and illustrating how the finished dishes should look. Many of these doodles appear in the book adding another personal dimension.

From early on, Diana travelled the world working in restaurants but always felt drawn to the kitchen. “I would ask the chefs to detail the dishes on the menu – what was in them and how they were made. I would relay this back to the diners, and sometimes they would even comment if I had made it myself because I knew so much about each dish!

“While in New Zealand, Mike and I ran a small supper club with people we knew and worked with. We joked that our apartment on the 8th floor was the most exclusive restaurant in Auckland!

“I also started a small business creating weekly menus for a community of expat Hungarians. Most were young men missing the flavours and tastes of home. People would place their orders and pick up the freshly made dishes to take away with them. It was hard work –I was also working full time myself, but what used to keep me going was the look of joy on their faces eating food that reminded them of home!”

As a regular customer of Diana’s this is a sentiment that she has expressed on multiple occasions when the food truck is in full flow. Although the food is designed to be taken away, it pleases her best when people stay to eat at the truck so she can see her customers enjoying her food. “I am a feeder”, says Diana; “I just want to feed people good food.”

“To me, food and everything about it is personal. If you visit Hungary, you’ll see how obsessed everyone is with food! Almost everyone has some sort of garden to grow their own food. We pickle, preserve and ferment foods – this is part of our culture and necessary to see you through the winter. In Ireland, people are getting back to this now – it is seen as trendy, but for me, this is just what I have always done.”

Growing and preparing food, great ingredients and eating together are all staples of Hungarian food culture. This ethos has helped Diana to engage with local food producers in West Cork, spawning a community around this humble food truck using great local produce.
“Great food starts with great ingredients. We are so lucky to have such wonderful people growing and creating beautiful ingredients.”

Meats are sourced from M J O’Neill Craft Butcher in Clonakilty; fish from Fresh Fish Deli in Rosscarbery, fresh herbs and salads are grown by Diana herself in a small kitchen garden created with the help of West Cork based permaculturist, Istvan Markuly.

To her book, beautifully bound in a sturdy and colourful hard cover, the pages are filled with meticulously tried and tested Food Truck recipes tweaked for the domestic setting to feed 4 to 6 people. From grab and go to slow cook and sweet treats all recipes are well laid out, clear and concise and paired with a photograph styled and shot by the dynamic duo themselves.

As I look through it, I can’t help but smile. “I think I’ve eaten pretty much everything in this book!” I proclaim. The familiarity of the food, and photographs of the stunning views of Courtmacsherry; the smiling faces of people I recognise either as fellow diners or our food producers makes me feel as though I am looking through a much loved photo album of memories. And of course to Diana and Mike their journeys through food are very much like that. A series of tasty vignettes crafted into a patchwork of tastes, places and people.

With the festive season well and truly upon us, I asked Diana which recipe is her go to for a Christmas Celebration. Zserbó was the reply, a Hungarian celebration cake with a 135 year history.

Zserbó (Gerbeaud)

Ingredients:

For the Dough
– 200g plain flour
– 100g butter
– 20g icing sugar
– 1 egg yolk
– 40ml full-fat milk
– 1 pinch of salt
– 8g fresh yeast
– 1 pinch baking powder

For the Filling

– 1 lemon for zest
– 140g sugar
– 240g ground walnut
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– 600g apricot jam (best quality you can get)

For the Glaze
– 100g chocolate melted (min 53%)

Method:

1. Butter a 20 x 20cm baking tray
2. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius
3. In the mixer fitted with a dough hook combine all ingredients for the dough. When it comes together wrap it in cling film and let it rest in the fridge for 30 min. Divide the dough into 5 equal pieces.
4. Roll out the first dough thin as you can and line the baking tray. It needs to come up around the sides.
5. Mix together the lemon zest, ground walnut, sugar and cinnamon for the dry filling.
6. Layer 150g of the jam and 90g of the dry filling, then roll out another dough, and repeat until you have the last dough. Make sure you smooth it out and prick it with a fork before baking.
7. Bake in the pre heated oven for 50 min.
8. Let it cool, preferably overnight, then turn it out onto a tray and glaze with the melted chocolate. The bottom is now the top and perfectly smooth and level. You want the chocolate to be a thin even layer. One the chocolate sets, you can slice!

It lasts for up to a week in the fridge. Just wonderful and moreish!

The book is priced at €20 and can be purchased online at www.fooddepotireland.com or at the following stockists around the country including Bibi Café, Dublin, Langford Row Café, Cork City and Organico, Bantry.

INTERVIEW BY KATE RYAN

Kate Ryan Flavour.ieKate Ryan is a food writer, blogger and founder of Flavour.ie a website that is dedicated to promoting West Cork Food through writing, events and tours. Kate writes regularly for The Opinion Magazine and The Southern Star newspaper and has been featured in the Irish Examiner and Irish Times. Her blog is recipe driven showcasing the best of West Cork produce and encouraging everyday cooking with it at home as well as the best places to eat in the region. Kate hosts a very popular social dining “Supper Club” as well as organising a variety of food-related events getting people to enjoy great local food together. In the summer season, Kate also runs the only guided Walking Food Tour of Clonakilty which takes place every Friday June to August and is accredited by Fáilte Ireland for the Wild Atlantic Way. Kate is also a judge with Blas na hEireann and the Irish Quality Food Awards.

Keep up with Kate’s food adventures on flavour.ie, and via her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Sign up to the Newsletter for previews of upcoming events, exclusive offers and news round-up.

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